And you can watch! Here.
I’ve had a craaaaazy couple of weeks here.
The bizarre tale.
I’ve been thinking about going back to school for a while – I browsed through different PhDs online for film or creative writing and I looked at law school, but the first two seemed impractical and as I didn’t think I could get a full ride to Stanford, the last one didn’t seem to have a lot of appeal. A month ago I saw a program at USC (South Carolina) in Mass Communications, which is right in line with my interests and previous degrees, so I applied for the spring semester of 2012, being the next semester available.
I got a phone call on the Tuesday before the Thursday that class started, asking me why I applied for the Spring Semester (because it was the next one to apply to!) and, if they could get me funding, would I be at all interested in coming this fall. I said, “Sure, if you get me funding,” as I am not made of money. So then I talked to him on Thursday, which was the first day of classes for the semester, and he asked me to come down and talk to everyone. So I spent 2 hours interviewing, meeting, being grilled on stats — all at the end of the first day of classes.
I got offered a graduate research assistantship and had about 6 hours to decide if I could do it or not. And so I am a future doctor and my life exploded into massive amounts of chaos that are slowly pulling themselves back into vague order.
I had about 247 administrative type things to do for the University, had to figure out how to do two weeks notice at my job and go to school at the same time, and prepare for speaking at Dragon*Con, and catch up on all the school stuff I had missed.
What a crazy weekend that was. So crazy that I’m writing about it what, on Thursday? Yeah, I was tweeting, hello, busy! In fact, nothing I’m going to say here wasn’t said with worse grammar and lack of access to spell check earlier.
I landed at Ronald Reagan airport (DCA) and took a cab to the Hyatt on Capitol Hill, which has a view of the Capital, assuming you can stand in exactly the right place and lean as far to your left as possible. My cab driver asked me what I was doing in town, and I was a little hesitant to say “CONQUERING THE WORLD WITH ATHEISM” because cab drivers have the power to not drive you anymore, and that would be unfun. So I started in easy, and then discovered that my self-proclaimed religious cabbie was totally on board with secular values and gay rights! Huzzah!
I hadn’t eaten yet, and the conference started at 1:00, which was exactly when I arrived. In the elevator I met Liz Gaston and Omar Rashid, who would become my companions over the course of the event. Because they were also awesome.
The event opened with Sean Faircloth, Woody Kaplan and Amanda Knief taking the podium in turns. I learned a lot of stats that I will now list for you, because you’re apparently reading this:
- Avg # of Staffers per House/Senate member: 18, split between home and DC
- Percent of staffer time spent with constituents: 75%
- Percent of staffers who think constituent visits are VERY persuasive: 97%
We broke down into groups after being given a rather lengthy guide to
sales lobbying for people who don’t know anything about sales lobbying. Being from SC, I got to work with Herb Silverman, who invented the SCA, and Sharon.
The issues we were planning on discussing the following day were the need for Humanist Military Chaplains and HR 1179 2011, a bill which allows medical service providers refuse to provide service if their religion demands it. The first is an easier sell, because everyone likes to help the military, the second is one that requires reframing the debate.
The reason we need Humanist Military Chaplains is not necessarily intuitive for people on the edges of the debate: who needs an atheist chaplain? Well, if the army is going to institutionalize having counselors on the ground and then NOT train them in how to deal with the 20%+ of armed service members with no religious preference, then that’s a problem. Humanism is a life philosophy and not actually synonymous with atheist, there’s just a large overlap. There aren’t any, despite the fact that there are people graduated from places like Harvard with divinity degrees focusing on Humanism.
HR 1179 2011 is more of an issue of patients rights. Doctors, Insurance, Nurses, Pharmacists, Hospitals and so on can not only refuse care that they don’t approve of, they can not tell you that they won’t do those services and not inform you that such services exist. This includes obvious things like abortions and birth control, but also things like living wills and DNRs. A Catholic Hospital can say it offers comprehensive female care and then not tell you most of what’s involved with comprehensive care.
I mean, it just seems to me that if you’re a Scientologist, you don’t become a Psychiatrist; if you’re a Jehovah’s Witness, you don’t become a Doctor; and if you’re someone with a political agenda that puts church in front of saving lives, you stay the hell away from medicine. But what do I know?
Sorry, shaking it off. I got to walk around DC, I wanted to see if maybe I could get into SCOTUS, but I couldn’t. Omar took this very cool picture of me at the Supreme Court. And then it was time for dinner.
Jennifer Michael Hecht, who has been my Facebook friend for a long time, but whose books I’ve never read and who I’ve never hung out with as such but is now my new favorite person, gave a speech at the dinner. She is a proponent of Poetic Atheism, which is like Atheism, but it rhymes. I’ll give you some quotes, grossly paraphrased:
When you know your history, you are powerful. More people in the history of humanity have not believed in God than have. (Atheism began around 600BC)
If I enjoy every day of my life I don’t worry so much about death. I mean, we barely use the life we’ve got — I dunno about you but I walk back and forth between the fridge and the computer a lot, what, I need a thousand years of it?
We were the first country founded as a secular rationalist country but we were also the first country to give the uneducated poor the vote. They worried that the uneducated poor would elect a poor man who would redistribute all the wealth. The uneducated poor won’t vote in a poor man, they’ll elect a stupid rich man. This is why we need free mandatory secular education!
Nothing in science fiction, in religion, in myths is as weird as this: (points to her head) the meat thinks. Nothing is as weird as love.
George Hrab, who is Spider Jerusalem, then performed some of his atheisty songs.
George Hrab is of the belief that James Randi is a garden gnome. This is undeniable.
My favorite zinger was aimed at Hitchens, when Hrab was talking about an event that Hitchens was going to be at but then wasn’t actually there.
Christopher Hitchens was supposed to be there, but I guess he had to go to a scotch festival… But at least that worked out for him.
OH SNAP! Basically what I’m saying is that George Hrab was pretty good, but he talked about his balls a lot.
After Hrab, Sean led trivia. I had talked a rather big game before the conference, so there was some pressure to win. Which I did quite handily, thank you very much. With the help of Omar for “Mumford and Sons” when all I could remember was “Little Lion Man”. We won an extra drink ticket, which I used to buy other people’s love, because people are irrationally in love with drink tickets.
After that, I went to meet George Hrab because I have a friend, Jarrett, who is a big fan. There are all these people who really dig on podcasts and I don’t get it. It’s like NPR but less focused, I know, I’ve been on a podcast. He wrote a note and let me take photos and then I ended up going down and hanging out with him and Liz and some random other people in the bar downstairs. There was an origami velociraptor involved.
I'm going to have a busy summer!
Secular Coalition for America's Summit in Washington DC from May 19-21. I haven't been to DC since I was 13, so this is exciting, and I've been invited as Future Leader and will get to talk strategy, which is also cool. Still need to figure out travel plans, it's a bit far to drive, probably.
The Amaz!ng Meeting 9 in Las Vegas from July 14-17. I've submitted a paper proposal that I was told was "pertinent and interesting", so fingers crossed there. I still need a room. And hopefully a roommate. And a plane ticket.
Dragon*Con in Atlanta from September 2-5. Travel and lodging are pretty easy, since I know people in Atlanta and it's not too much of a drive. I need to get a ticket, but I'll be speaking! So that's exciting!
If only traveling and registration wasn't so expensive… I'm going to be out probably $1500 between these three. And that's assuming I can resist the myriad temptations to buy awesome crap at Dragon*Con. Which I failed at the last time I spoke there, about my short film, and ended up dropping a couple hundred on a really awesome corset… But then, when I went to Comic Con I didn't spend any money except to go to the San Diego Zoo (which was awesome).
Hey, I'm teaching myself to sew, maybe I should make a costume. People are more likely to take you seriously in costume, right?